What's in a name? More money, evidently

by Paul Jay, CBCNews.ca

The European Space Agency is still basking in the glow of the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis, which sent ESA's Columbus laboratory to the international space station over the weekend. As I wrote earlier this year, the launch of Columbus marks the beginning of a new, more prominent role for the agency.

Armed with this newfound ambition, the ESA is now looking at revitalizing its long-planned ExoMars rover mission, which is scheduled to launch in 2013.

ESA head Jean Jacques Dordain told the BBC from Johnson Space Center in Houston the agency is planning to ask his people to come up with a new name for the mission.

The reason? Dordain wants to double from the 650 million euro budget for the project, and suggests a name change might help convince EU ministers.

As he told the BBC:

"I am asking [my officials] to find a different way to define ExoMars because if we say 'this is ExoMars', for most of the ministers it means 'over-cost'. And this is not over-cost because we are not speaking at all of the same mission; it is a completely different mission. This is to try to make ministers understand that this is not over-cost."

It's a strange maneuvre: not so much changing the name, but telegraphing the strategy to a reporter.

The ExoMars mission, which has been slow to get off the ground, has a history with Canada.

The ESA had asked MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.'s space robotics unit to build the rover, but in 2006 the federal government balked at the $100 million over 10 years that MDA wanted to be redirected to the program.

Now the ESA is looking elsewhere for a contractor to build the rover. Meanwhile, MDA announced the sale of satellite and space businesses to U.S. weapons and rocket maker Alliant Techsystems of Edina, Minn.

It's not clear from the ESA's outdated literature on ExoMars who will be building the rover now, but perhaps there is still room for contributions from Canadian robotics companies.